This week is starting off classy (with Madonna) and it is about to get classier. Though many of us pride ourselves on our fine taste in music, film, and literature—most of us would also admit to (myself included) occasionally enjoying the tawdry, the lowbrow, and the mainstream.
A few weeks ago I mentioned my love for the reality program The Bachelor. I was not lying. I started watching The Bachelor during a brief stint of living in Berkeley, CA (Ironically, I was there to investigate graduate school programs and higher education, not to develop a television habit. Thanks Berzerkely!). Homesick for the Northwest, I was sucked into The Bachelor by the fact that one of the contestants that season, Meredith, was from Portland. I was rooting for Bachelor Bob Guiney to keep her on the show because then the two of them would return to Portland for what is known as the "hometown date." Well, it happened, and I was able to vicariously view Portland, albeit through Bob and Meredith's eyes, which were mostly focused on each other—though I did get glimpses of Washington Park, the Willamette River, and a scattering of trees.
By the time Meredith was sent packing before the final episode I was hooked. When the next season of the show began, I was back in Portland with no excuse for watching the show at all, yet I still tuned in whenever I could. Admittedly, there are shows in the reality television vein with much more substance and validity. Project Runway showcases people with an actual talent and something like PBS' Manor House provided a more thorough examination of class, social roles, and history; but The Bachelor intrigues me none the less. Maybe we all have that one show, the one guilty pleasure that seems incongruous with our more sophisticated or highfalutin tastes. Yet I don't think it truly is a conflict of interest, or even a fluke. To me, The Bachelor (and this is probably also true of a hundred other reality shows that I don't watch) is fascinating because it exemplifies our acceptance of non-reality as reality. We know that we're not getting to see the whole picture, that the information is being manipulated, and that the story being told is only part of the story. I suppose that sometimes I'd rather just sit back and get that artifice-parading-as-truth from The Bachelor instead of from my government.
Here then is an interview with a friend of mine who worked on The Bachelor. She has asked that I withhold her name for the sake of anonymity.
Question: Describe your role or duties as a producer on 'The Bachelor.'
Answer: I was involved in every aspect of the production; I was heavily involved with casting, interviewing the cast, and following/driving story.
Q: How does the production on a reality television program vary from scripted or more traditional forms?
A: We shoot 100% of the time and air 1% of what we shot. With that said, we roll on a lot of boring sh*t but as soon as you set the camera down is when the good stuff happens, therefore we only stop when they are sleeping and even then there is somebody on standby just in case. Reality TV is known as being down and dirty and on the cheap, so it is very different from scripted [TV] in that one of my roles was to try to get everything for free — if you see us at a resort in Bermuda it is because that said resort is looking for PR and they gave us the whole date for trade out.
Q: Do you feel like the contestants on 'The Bachelor' (and the Bachelor himself) are actually there to find love? Or do they see it as a way of furthering their careers, entering show-biz, or getting their 15 minutes of fame?
A: I am a bit of a hopeless romantic, so without sounding too cheesy I really believe that at our core most of us are looking for true love. Now, why would some go to match.com, a bar, or a reality TV show? The decision to go on TV is telling of their personalities and their motivations are almost never pure for these reality types. They usually want to leverage something. I don't know if it is always a career in acting more than it is fame, recognizability, covers of US Weekly, never having to wait in line at a club, for some it is about hometown celebrity status. Like take the realtor or the banker for example, after bearing all on a reality romance show they are inevitably viewed as an alpha type person and because of this their lives are exponentially better having made themselves a household name. Not to mention that over 50% of the cast, having not found love on TV end up finding it in their real lives immediately after going on the show — somehow the people in their lives see them differently, more attractive even, having done something so ballsy.
Q: Does the editing process do justice to the contestants or is there a vast difference between what happened during the taping and what appears on the broadcast? In other words, does the editing carve out a story line or play up certain personalities in order to make it more interesting? I think this is the general assumption that the audience has.
A: TOTALLY! Everyone always ask if what we see on TV is really what happened and for the most part it is but, going back to the film 100% and air 1%, the viewer is only getting to see the really good stuff and, even still, if the stories are many we are going to edit them down to the most compelling bits, therefore leaving out (often times) how somebody goes from seemingly normal to totally coo coo pants. We have even gone so far as to "frankenbite," where you take somebody saying, "of course I'd like to say that I love him" and cutting the bite together to say "of course I love him," cutting out the very important "I'd like to say." [It's] definitely very misleading to the viewer and unfair to the cast member, but they sign up for this, fully knowing the reputation of the reality world.
Q: Was there ever an intelligent or reasonably cool Bachelor or contestant?
A: Yes. Intelligent — absolutely most of them are college graduated and some of them prestigious schools like Harvard. But does that make them "cool", no. Were some cool? Absolutely, but I guess that is all in who you ask. Take an associate of mine, if you asked her she would say that none of them were cool. Me, I am a sucker for the human experience, no matter if it is up my alley or not. I liked some of the Bachelors/Bachelorettes but others of them I hated (and I really have to try hard to be moved to hatred.) There are a couple of them that I genuinely care about. Would people like hanging out with these celebrated love seekers? Probably not — unless you take Meredith she actually was one of the more "normal/cool" cast members that we had. Bob was cool by most people's standards, fun loving, kind hearted, a karaoke machine, and now the host of "Trick My Trucker" who wouldn't want to hang out with that type?
Q: What tricks or strategies does the show employ to amp up the drama and tension during the taping of the show?
A: Well, in the private one on one interviews with a producer (like me) it is the producers job to get the sh*t talking started, like "tell me honestly what you think of Sally" — if the interviewee does not want to respond in a catty way then the producer will usually go to the next level, like "well I personally think she is a self absorbed, attention starved skank," and then see if the person will take the bait. Once you start learning who in the house is not well liked it is easy to start seeding conversations and gossip. Also, if the conversations linger too long on favorite movies and stuff the producers will step in a say, "ok we all know we signed up for a TV show — so if you don't start talking about something more topical then you can't have the sushi you requested tonight." The smarter cast members start to realize that everything can be bartered. Like, "I will give you a good one-on-one interview about Sally, IF you let me listen to my iPod for the rest of the day."
Q: Do you feel like 'The Bachelor' already has his lady picked out early on but has to appear undecided due to the nature of the show?
A: Sometimes yes and sometimes no — really, every hero cast member is different; sometimes there is an undeniable chemistry and that has to be well masked throughout the show, as not to give away the ending. But other times they don't "know" until the very last minute.
Q: What is the interview process like to be a contestant on 'The Bachelor', or to be The Bachelor himself?
A: It is pretty crazy, there are several phone interviews first, then they fly him out with others for a competitive casting sessions where they are all put on camera, taken to dinner, interviewed some more, etc. When the execs finally have a cast member that they'd like to work with they meet with the head of ABC to get his blessing. Sometimes it takes awhile, as they are some real douche bags out there.
Q: How does the crew of 'The Bachelor' deal with the craziness and general stupidity of what they are witnessing?
A: Most of the time the crew gets pretty into it! Reality TV is such a grind for the crew, long hours with little pay that they actually look forward to the crazy bits, it helps to pass the time and the executives get so excited that the vibe is felt throughout. The camera man that has been shooting for 12 straight hours of mani/pedis is like, 'I know this shit I am filming is actually gonna make it to air.' It is pretty satisfying to watch the kids go to crazy town especially for those of us that sold out on any hope of a real life ourselves. Also it makes you happy of any drama free life you may be living.
Q: Why is there never any acknowledgment that the contestants are on television? Aside from the one-on-one interview with the camera, I always wonder why people don't talk about how strange the process is, or admit to the surreal nature of the program during their involvement. Is this edited out or do they truly forget the cameras are there?
A: Definitely edited out. Whenever anyone is talking about the cameras they get scolded and told to resume more TV friendly chitchat. They are told up front that they have to ignore the cameras and after awhile they really do go away, or if they don't you usually don't last long because if you aren't being "yourself", or at least being emotional and effusive then you won't last long on the show; you will be overshadowed by the ones that can get past the cameras. If you don't bring your personality to the show then you end up looking like a cold stone bitch and the producers make sure of that.
By the way, the current season of The Bachelor is called "London Calling." That, however, is a whole other blog entry.